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Jul 30 2011

Popular Culture (Music) 20110729. Who’s Next

Those of you who read my pieces know that I often write about my favourite band, The Who.  (I used the UK spelling intentionally this time, rare for me these days).  This time we shall examine what many people say was their finest work.  I am not sure that I agree completely, but it was extremely good.

Who’s Next is actually a compilation of songs, most from Townshend, that became an album after the ill fated Lifehouse project, Townshend’s opus, never came to light.  He finally finished it, many years later, but the final product was far different than this record.  We shall discuss Who’s Next tonight, and will continue the discussion about Lifehouse next week, after I see your comments and questions.

First let us get to the facts.  Ready to go?

First, please forgive me for not publishing My Little Town Wednesday last.  I had been under the weather quite a bit, and did not have the energy to sit and compose for a couple of hours.  No specific reason, but several ones at once.  Nothing serious, just had the blahs.

In any event, I have been asked by a couple of personal friends why I did not write about Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy first.  The reason is that Who’s Next was released just a month or two before the other one, both in the UK and in the US.  We shall talk about the other record next time.

Apparently Who’s Next was released simultaneously in the UK and the US on 19710825, the final Decca release in the US for The Who, and on Track Records in the UK.  Otherwise, the content of the records are similar.  For reasons to be explained next week, this album is more like a compilation than it is a well thought out studio album.

Before we get started with the actual tracks, we should discuss a bit of controversy about this record.  There is one camp of Who fans that believe that this was their opus, and there is another camp of fans that believe that it was a transitional piece.  I am not sure what I believe, but Eldest Son said something pretty profound, “They should have quit after that one.  Nothing else that they did later was nearly as good.”  I am not sure that I agree with any of those schools of thought, but I will allow that this was some of the finest music that they ever did.  I would be interested to discuss the ramifications of these ideas in the comments.

I have a rare opportunity with this installment, because I saw The Who live on 19760316 in Fort Worth, Texas at the Tarrent County Convention Center.  I had the flu, and was running 105 degrees!  There is no video for any of these events, and the audio is not great, but it what I experienced.  The embeds labelled Tarrent are the ones that I saw.  I was just two weeks into my 19th year.

Now for the music.  It opens with Baba O’Reily, with only one “l” in distinction to the vile combover host on The Fox “News” Channel.  Townshend was experimenting with the most advanced musical equipment of the day (all analogue, as digital was decades away), and came up with the opening for it using technology that is now archaic.  Here is the studio cut.

There is more about this song than I can describe.  A Townshend composition, it starts with Pete on the piano, after some very complex organ pieces that are all analogue.  The complex organ pieces continue pretty much all of the way though the song, sometimes a bit harder to hear.  I shall allow you to realize when Moon and Entwistle come into the foray, and of course you can distinguish Daltrey’s voice, but Pete sings quite a bit of it.  This is unusual because Moon arranged the final part, as I can tell the only song that he was allowed to arrange except for Cobwebs and Strange, years earlier.  The fine violinist was Dave Arbus, a friend of Moon’s who also was in the seminal British band East of Eden.

They were not able to reproduce such a intricate piece on tour, so Daltrey often used his harmonica to simulate Arbus’s violin part.  I strongly suspect the Rabbit did the keyboard parts on tour.  Here is a typical live performance:

There are so many things that I like about this that I can not even begin to describe them.   I do like lots of shots of Entwistle playing his bass.  He can do more with what appear to be hands that move little than most other bass players can do lividly.  Note that Pete was playing a Les Paul Gibson (as I recall, the studio was recorded with him playing a Gretch), and note the stack of HiWatt amplifiers behind them.  By that time Moon had to wear headphones to sort out what was going on in front of him.

There are lots and lots of other versions of this song, but this one is typical.  Please add in the comments any that you like better.

I could not find a version from Tarrant County, but here is the demo that Townshend recorded for the band.  He plays and sings EVERYTHING.

The next song was Bargain, another Townshend tune.  I think that he was at his writing peak at this attempt.  “I’d gladly lose me to find you” is part of my psyche towards a couple of people.  Here is the studio version:

Most critics say that it is about Townshend’s spiritual evolution to become a follower of Meyer Baba.  Perhaps that is true.  It means much more to me in a different spiritual setting, one person falling in love with another.  I would give up myself to find the right person.  Years ago I was very selfish, but now my views have changed.

Here is a nice, live piece.  John was still with us, and Zac was just perfect.  Zac is the only living drummer that still sounds like Keith.  Please enjoy.  As for me, I have NO bargain, but miss the one that I once had.

I could not find a video from Tarrant County, but here is Pete’s demo:

The next song was Love Ain’t for Keeping.  I apologize in advance for crying with this one.  My soul screams out the sentiment of that thought, but to no one in listening range!  I had thought a couple of weeks ago that someone might have accepted my invitation, but to no avail.  Here is the studio version:

It is a little, short song that speaks volumes.  I just wish that I had the guts to say the same. There are not many live versions to be found, which I find unusual for a song with such emotion.

However, there is THIS one, and I find it more pleasing than the studio version.  Would that I had someone with whom to share it nearby.

I could not find the Fort Worth live one, but here is the demo:

The sole Entwistle song on this record was the seminal My Wife.  I have read quite a bit of his background, and he and his first wife did not get on well.  This was a signature song for The Who for a long, long time.  This is the studio version, and note the horns that Entwistle played all:

Although the former Mrs. Translator and I had our differences, it never came to blows like it seems to be in this song.  I shall love her until the day that I die.

Here are a couple of live ones.

This one has a hint of the future in it.  Roger was assisting John to sing it.  John was becoming ill with a bad heart.  Note that Zac was drumming, just like Keith.  Zac is so, so good!

If I am not mistaken, this was his last performance of it.  Unless I have the clip wrong, he was found dead the next morning.  Please correct me if I am wrong.

Here is the version from the first time that I saw them live:

UPDATE:  Our good friend SherwoodB pointed out that I missed the last song on the first side of the record, The Song is Over.  I apologize and thank him for calling it to my attention.  Here is the studio version:

I could not find a live version, but here is Pete’s demo:

The first song on the second side was Getting in Tune, part of the central idea of Lifehouse.  It is a very nice tune.  Townshend wrote it, and Daltrey sang most of it.  Here is the studio version:

I shall allow you to decide what the song means.  I just know what it does for me.  Interestingly, this was one of the last contributions that the very great keyboardist, Nicky Hopkins, ever made with The Who.  He lived many years afterwards, wracked with pain from Crohn’s Disease.  He did lots more studio stuff, but as far as I can find never with The Who

again.  He was extremely important in their early days, and was also under contract with the lowlife producer, Shel Talmy, like The Who were in the early days.

Here is a very nice live version.  Do not allow the pictures to fool you; it was recorded in 1971 when all of them were at their top.

Here is Townshend’s demo:

The next track was the quirky Goin’ Mobile.  I think that it has more to do with the band and their actual touring rather than a social commentary.  Tell me what you think.  It is written and sung by Pete, except for backing vocals.  This is another experiment that he conducted using using synthesizers and guitar.  I sort of worked.  I like it because it has a good beat and is easy with which to dance (bonus point for the first commenter who identifies that line).

What critics rarely say is that this one of the very best interactions betwixt Enwistle on bass and Moon on drums.  If you leave out the acoustic guitar and the vocals, the rhythm section would have carried the song alone.  I like the nod to the era, “Play the tape machine.”  These days it would be “Play the IPod thing”, and that still rhymes.

Here is a live version.  I take it back.  I could not find a live version.  Perhaps readers with better search skills can find one.  However, here is Pete’s demo:

Next is what is most likely the autobiography of Townshend.  Behind Blue Eyes is one of their very best efforts, and as my good friend and Kossack justasabeverage pointed out to me on a personal telephone call, was probably the first reference that Pete made to coats.  He does seem to be fascinated with them.  Here is the studio version.

Here is what is purported to be the “original” version, and it might well be.  It is very close to album release, and I can understand that just a few tracks were removed.  I am told that the great Al Kooper is playing organ in this piece.

Here is the version that I saw in person, back in March of 1976.  The sound quality is not great, but it was the one that I saw.

Here is Townshend’s demo:

Now to the really controversial topic.  I consider We Don’t Get Fooled Again to be the greatest rock and roll song ever written and performed.  I know that I shall catch a lot of flack for that, but that is my position.  I welcome intelligent and constructive conversation about it in the comments.  Here is the studio version:

The song purportedly has to do with Townshend’s rejection of the Woodstock philosophy.  I shall not pass comment on that.  I DO know that is is written perfectly, and JUST for Daltrey to sing.  No other singer could do it correctly, and no cover has even come close to the energy that the original still has.  Even their own live performances can not match it, although many of them are good, with some punched up bass.  But this remains a perfect, single flower in the garden of rock and roll.  If you have other candidates to challenge it as the best rock and roll song ever, you better have some good ammunition.

Once again, here is the one that I experienced.

Here is a very nice video shot with multiple cameras.  I like this very much because Entwistle has a screen of his own.  Listen to what sound he is making, and watch how effortless it seems to be to him.  He was amazing!

UPDATE:  After I published this piece, I realized that I had not included Pete’s demo for the song.  Here it is:

Lots of difference from the versions that we know and love!

Well, there you have Who’s Next.  Next week we shall explore the work that started it, Lifehouse.  We shall listen to some of the songs from it that did not make it on Who’s Next and some of the background about the project.  It failed because no one but Townshend could understand what he was trying to say, so they lost interest.  Even Kit Lambert was big confused.  I hope that you enjoy the music tonight, and please comment often.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

3 comments

  1. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    one of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

  2. BobbyK

    for my PC!  Had to switch to the ear buds.

    Thanks again for another great piece.

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